The Real World of Technology, Ursula M. Franklin

Americans and Nature 

“Sometimes I think if I were granted one wish, it would be that the Canadian government would treat nature the way Canadian governments have always treated the United States of America — with utmost respect and as a great power.
Whenever suggestions for political action are placed before the government of Canada, the first consideration always seems to be “What about the Americans? They may not like it. They may let their displeasure be seen and felt. They may retaliate!” And what about nature? Obviously nature does not take kindly to what is going on in the real world of technology. Nature is retaliating, and we’d better understand why and how this is happening. I would therefore suggest to you that, in all processes of planning, nature should be considered as a strong and independent power. Ask, “What will nature do?” before asking, “What will the Americans do?” 

“ Maybe what the real world of technology needs more than anything else are citizens with a sense of humility — the humility of Kepler or Newton, who studied the universe but knew that they were not asked to run it.”

  • Alisdair Grey’s stories about the Art School and the tunnel

first phase – exuberance and enthusiasm  “In this phase technologies create human bonds and a sense of excitement in people who feel grateful to be part of such wonderful, progressive times. The voices of reservation sound like disgruntled skeptics, fearful of change — like the old lady who said that if God had wanted us to fly, she would never have given us the railways.”

second phase – concretisation and domestication  “After this phase, with its flights of imagination, human contacts, and excessive hopes, a new phase appears. This is the phase of the stern father saying, “What do you really want to do when you grow up?” This is the phase of growth and standardization of the technology. From here on the involvement of people, whether workers or users, is drastically reduced.”

“There’s also the language of computers to support this image of harmless domesticity. One speaks of booting up and boilerplates; one talks about mouse and menu. The user has the feeling of choice and control, of mastery and a comfortable relationship with the machine and with other users.”

second phase – industrialisation and exploitation – “But this phase will not last. Behind that pink fluff one already sees the features of global restructuring. The changes in the workplace are there and it is not the workers who exercise control. After you’ve looked at the gushy computer magazines, you may want to read Heather Menzies” book, called Fast Forward and Out of Control,6 in which she speaks about global restructuring in terms of the Canadian economy and Canadian workers. If one doesn’t watch the introduction of new technologies and particularly watch the infrastructures that emerge, promises of liberation through technology can become a ticket to enslavement. I’d like to remind you of one example of the doubtful promises of liberation by a new technology. The case is focused, direct, and drastic. Let’s look at the introduction of the sewing machine.”


Women and Technology

Feminine coping skills versus growth skills

From “When Old Technologies Were New”

  • p.212:  “Informal entertainments were sometimes spontaneously organized by telephone operators during the wee hours of the night, when customer calls were few and far between. On a circuit of several stations, operators might sit and exchange amusing stories. One night in 1981 operators at Worcester, Fall River, Boston, Springfield, Providence and New York organized their own concert. The *Boston Evening Record* reported: ‘The operator in Providence plays the banjo, the Worcester operator the harmonica, and gently the others sing. Some tune will be started by the players and the other will sing. To appreciate the effect, one must have a transmitter close to his ear. The music will sound as clear as though it were in the same room.’ “A thousand people were said to have listened to a formal recital presented through the facilities of the Home Telephone Company in Painesville, Ohio, in 1905. And, portent of the future, in 1912 the New York Magnaphone and Music Company installed motor-driven phonographs that sent recorded music to local subscribers over a hundred transmitters.”

The nature of typing is such that
there are none but silly errors to make:
renowned only for pettiness
and an appearance of stupidity.
I don’t want to make silly little errors;
I want to make big important errors.
I want to make at least one error
which fills my supervisor with such horror
she blanches and almost faints
and then runs to the manager’s office.
The manager turns pale and stares out the window
then resolutely picks up the phone
to page the big boss at his golf game.
Then the big boss comes running into the office
and the manager closes his door
and hours go by.
The other women don’t talk
or talk only in whispers,
pale as ghosts but relieved it isn’t them.
An emergency stockholders” meeting has to be called
about which we only hear rumours.
To make sure I don’t accidentally get a job
with a subsidiary, allied company or supplier,
I am offered a choice of either
fourteen years severance pay or early retirement.
A question is asked in Parliament
to which the Prime Minister replies by assuring the House
most typists only make silly typing errors
which only rarely affect the balance of trade.
The only time I get to talk about it
is when I am interviewed (anonymously) for an article
about the effect of typing errors on the economy.

The separation of knowledge and experience 

  • “We talked about the separation of knowledge from experience that science has brought. In its wake came the rise of experts and the decline of people’s trust in their own direct experiences.”  (aesthetics as experience – Raciere) 

“There is nothing essential in the magnification of the obvious.”

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